Louisiana House passes proposal allowing adoptees to view birth records: “Truth sets us free.” | Legislature
The Louisiana House of Representatives voted Monday night to advance legislation that would allow adults adopted as children to obtain an uncertified copy of their original birth certificate at the age of 24 without having to petition a court to unseal their records.
House Bill 450 authored by state Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, passed the lower chamber by a vote of 76-21. It next heads to the Senate for consideration.
Under existing law, adoptees in Louisiana are barred from viewing their original birth certificate, which includes the name of their birth mother and father, unless they’re able to convince a judge that there’s a compelling reason to do so.
Owen, an adoptee who last year tried – and failed – to obtain his own birth records, characterized the policy as a “draconian” form of government overreach.
“A grown person ought to be able to get their birth certificate,” Owen said, adding that the government shouldn’t hold get to keep a record about him from him.
The measure faced opposition from anti-abortion groups, who argued that it violates the “promise made to a birth mother” who chose adoption over abortion that her identity would be kept confidential. They suggested the change could push more people towards abortion.
In a floor note sent to lawmakers ahead of the debate, Louisiana Right to Life even threatened to include their decision in calculating its “Right to Life Scorecard.”
But even among their most stalwart allies in the Louisiana Legislature, the arguments fell flat.
“This is not an abortion issue,” said state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport. “Quite frankly, what they’ve done with this bill is a red herring.”
The Louisiana Legislature passed its closed adoption law in 1977, as part of a nationwide movement meant to protect adoptees – not their birth parents – from the social stigma of being labeled a “bastard.” It also protected adopted parents from being exposed as infertile, according to research from University of Baltimore Law Professor Elizabeth Samuels.
Owen said an 86-year-old, who worked as a clerk in the Senate at the time the law was passed, told him the measure was meant as “a wall of protection for adopted parents.” And according to Seabaugh, the “No. 1 pro-life legislator” in 1977, Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge, voted against the law sealing adoption records.
When an adoption is finalized in Louisiana, a new birth certificate is created with the adopted parent’s information. The original document, which includes the biological parent’s names and the hospital where the child was born, is kept under seal – but not forever.
The record can be unsealed if an adoptee offers a compelling reason to the court.
“If you have money and can hire a lawyer, you can get your birth certificate now,” Seabaugh said.
Owen said it’s a “myth” that confidentiality is promised. Seabaugh said it’s a “fiction.”
With the rise of genetic testing services like Ancestry.com and 23&me 23andMe – which allow users to submit DNA samples to discover relatives – lawmakers noted that in this day and age, there’s no way to prevent an “unwanted reunion” between a mother and child.
Owen amended his bill on the floor to allow a birth parent to submit a form stating whether or not they’d like to be contacted. Their preference would be kept confidential in an envelope that an adoptee would receive once their birth records are unsealed.
Countering assertions that HB450 would lead to more abortions, Owen, who has described himself as “staunch member of the life movement,” said Alabama passed a similar measure two decades ago, and since then, it’s seen a steeper decline in abortions.
During Monday’s debate, state Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, revealed to his colleagues that he grew up with two adopted brothers. As they grew older, both began to ask questions about where they came from. Both committed suicide.
“One of them died at the age of 24,” Harris said. “Just think if he would have had the option to answer of those questions he had as an adopted child.”
State Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Gray, said her mother, who was adopted, didn’t see her original birth certificate until she was 56 years old. She said she remembers the relief that her mother felt when she finally “knew some truth” about the reality of her beginnings.
“Fear keeps us bound,” Amedee said. “Truth sets us free.”
Voting FOR opening birth certificates for adopted people (76): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps Adams, Amedee, Bacala, Bagley, Beaullieu, Bishop, Bourriaque, Boyd, Brass, Brown, Bryant, Carpenter, Carrier, W. Carter, Cormier, Cox, Crews, Davis, DuBuisson, Duplessis, Echols, Edmonston, Emerson, Fisher, Freeman, Freiberg, Frieman, Gadberry, Gaines, Geymann, Goudeau, Green, Harris, Hilferty, Horton, Hughes, Huval, Jefferson, Jenkins, M. Johnson, T. Johnson, Jordan, Kerner, LaCombe, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Mack, Marcelle, Marino, McCormick, McFarland, McKnight, McMahen, D. Miller, G. Miller, Muscarello, Nelson, Newell, C. Owen, R. Owen, Phelps, Pierre, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, Schlegel, Seabaugh, Selders, St. Blanc, Stagni, Thomas, Turner, White and Willard.
Voting AGAINST HB450 (21): R. Carter, Coussan, Deshotel, DeVillier, Edmonds, Farnum, Firment, Fontenot, Garofalo, Illg, Ivey, Magee, Miguez, Mincey, Orgeron Pressly Stefanski, Tarver, Wheat, Wright and Zeringue.
Not Voting (7): Butler, Glover, Hodges, Hollis, Moore, Thompson and Villio.